Monday, February 14, 2011

The Best Self-love Story is Not My Own: A Struggle Towards Presence and Wholeness

photograph is from here
Many children and teens have needs for connection, for touch, for pleasure, and we are all easily coerced and can also be coercive (whether through force or pleading), to get our needs met at the expense of someone's humanity. This happened in my life. I engaged another person, a few years younger, in a sexual relationship when I was seventeen. He was my cousin.

"Love" didn't drive me to manipulate him. "Love" didn't drive him to want the acts to continue. Nor did basic respect and regard.

I abused him. And the dynamic, fully set in motion by me, shifted over a few months to the point that he was more interested in being sexual than I was. That's what I did to him: My interactions with him amped up his sexual desire for a form of sex with me that was not connected to care or concern for someone's human well-being. By me self-servingly instigating sexual contact with him, I was one of several males who showed him what he was worth.

Though my actions, he learned how to use others sexually, including me. In front of him and his therapist, I took full responsibility for getting that manipulative choreographed period of my abusiveness and selfishness going, for initiating and continuing actions designed to get my needs met at his spiritual expense. I was not being considerate of him. I was not concerned to know about his history of other abuse (of which I had no knowledge at the time). Concern about how he'd already been harmed might have interfered with me getting my needs met. I was not particularly interested in knowing how my actions might later impact his life. I sexually abused him. And I used him also.
[written by me; the source of this, in a slightly different form, is *here*, in the comments section.]

At nine, I was clear about a few things:

I knew the world I was in didn't welcome or want my feelings in their raw state. And, in order to hold them all inside, I had to create spaces in me for them to be put away. When people ask me how I am feeling, the most honest answer is this: "I don't know. I could take a few guesses though--if you'd like for me to."

I knew that there was something to do with race that was quite awful, tyrannical, evil. It had to do, in my world, with what whiteness was and how it was supposed to be expressed, as a ruling force. It had to do with people who were not white being considered less than human, while whites were considered something more than human: geniuses and saints, for example. White stories never told the whole truth about anything, I came to find out. And the stories of the most evil expressions of whiteness cannot be told without some whites shouting "It's a lie!! That never happened." Never mind the past; it is happening right now.

I also knew there was something going on with gender, although I didn't have that term when I was nine. I knew that the way society was organised meant that some kinds of boys--white, athletic ones--were highly valued, and other boys were not valued as much. Boys like me were not valued at all. And this put me in close proximity with girls, who were despised by boys for reasons I could only determine to be jealousy--jealousy that girls could express some range of emotion that boys didn't dare reveal (even while they felt all the same feelings as girls).

At nine, I began to consciously dis-identify with boys and identify with girls. But well before then, at age three and four, I was very sensitive and relational. I bonded strongly with one care-giver, who was related to me but was not my mother. My mother was ill. My feelings of sadness about my mother's life is a blanket not easily cast off. Her despair is a deep pit I can fall into with her. She's more of a sibling to me, really.

By the age of seventeen, I was feminist-identified. I also knew--well before then--that I was not heterosexual and that heterosexuality was not humane, really. It was presented as natural, but was so obviously maintained by forces quite unnatural, very social, very political. If heterosexuality were so very natural, it wouldn't need force to support it at all. And men who claim to be het wouldn't feel so very, very threatened at the mere suggestion they might not be. And they wouldn't have to prove their heterosexuality in such anti-loving ways against the bodies and minds of girls and women. I call that orientation many men have towards women, "haterosexuality". It's not love.

In my fondness for boys and later men, there was a kind of longing for connection that I couldn't explain. I wanted intimacy and closeness, but sex threw me back against myself. Sex was powerful, terrifying, and bleak. Sex was loaded up with nightmares that I didn't understand. But it was also filled with dreams as yet unrealised. One time, when sixteen, I had a lovely emotional-erotic relationship with a teenage boy. I was year older than him. We were in bed together, naked, and our lips met, open mouths, not kissing, but breathing each other's air. This felt like life to me. He was ripped away from me like a needed rehydration IV drip tube by a cruel doctor. The cruel doctor was his evil step-father. My first intense emotional connection with a boy ended with him being torn away and moved away.

I then made a go at heterosexual relationship with a young women I liked very much and enjoyed the company of. These feelings were mutual. I respected her a great deal. She had more romantic feelings for me, filled with hopes for feelings from me I couldn't feel for women because I wasn't heterosexual and also because I loved women too much to do to them what het routinely men do to women. (Turning them into objects, possessions, things to be controlled, manipulated, destroyed.) I had no desire to do this with or to women. I felt possessed by my feelings for boys and later men. Before she and I got involved, I had told my girlfriend this--of my relationship with the boy, for example; that I was not heterosexual. I'm thankful I did that. Because males betraying women is a common occurrence, and I wouldn't want the burden of feeling as though I had betrayed her.

My ex-boyfriend also got involved with a girl after we were separated by force. I think we both gave up on finding love with males. The damage of his evil step-father's disdain for him left permanent scars. The world would be cruel to such boys. That was clear. Almost as cruel as het boys were to girls or men were to girls and women. But not quite that cruel. Nothing is quite that cruel, really.

I later fancied myself a lesbian. I fancied myself a lesbian separatist. (A celibate one.) I longed for this option, which was completely impossible. Since I couldn't be with males in any emotionally real way, publicly, why bother?

A het male friend of mine--we've since parted company on good terms--told me last year of his choice to stop playing male-dominant romance games and sex games with women. And he spoke of his choice to be celibate. This was a choice I had already made, but not at all for the reasons he made it. He knew he needed to unlearn his mastery of seduction of women. He was too good at, which means there was too much dishonesty in it and too much betrayal of women's souls. And of his own. He knows he isn't here to be an oppressor. He is not white, by the way.

In his period of celibacy, he told me of a romantic, affectionate connection he had with a woman his age. They'd hold hands, publicly, and find a bench in their city and would sit, curled up in each other. Once they spent a whole night like that, outside. This was a new way of being for him. It was quite wonderful. It opened him to her and to himself. I was happy for him. But it also made me sad.

I asked him to imagine never being able to be affectionate with any woman publicly. To imagine a world that would threaten or enact violence if he dared show any woman any degree of romantic interest, affection, adoration, desire, sexual longing. Even, for example, sitting across a restaurant table from her, looking too long into her eyes without speaking. That if he even indicated this kind of interest or desire or affection, let alone demonstrating it publicly, overtly, he might be beaten to death, or, at least, there would be men who would desire to do this to him and to anyone he was with.

I told him, "That's my world." He thought about it seriously for a moment, and then banished the feelings he felt when the thought sunk into his body. He purged himself of the knowledge of that life. He couldn't bear it. I live it and he couldn't bear it, and so it made me wonder: How do I bear it? I bear it by denying myself any possibility of finding love with any man. I bear it by destroying the possibility of it. I bear it by being both celibate and asexual.

One of my most accomplished acts of self-destruction is something I've written about here before. But for those who missed that telling, I'll go over aspects of it for you now.

Ten years before turning forty-eight, just over a decade ago, I was with someone sexually in ways that I didn't think was emotionally possible for me. All my longing for intimacy and affection--even for mouths meeting--was cast aside because a man wanted sex with me, regularly, monthly, in motel rooms or in any place he happened to be living. I never let him into my place. I had learned by age thirteen that men can want sex from you in ways that result in them getting it, or taking it, or ripping it from you--they take far more, of course, and what they leave you with is horror and emptiness. I'd learned to think that the only reason any man would want me emotionally was to get at me sexually. This man wanted sex, and didn't know very much about affection or intimacy--most especially with and toward himself. He was lost to himself, especially since he was sexually assaulted by the same man who assaulted me when I was twelve.

The predator got to each of us probably within a couple of months of each other. Who knows how many other males he abused, or females. This shared history--a co-nightmare--was never spoken of between us, although I tried to speak with him of it in our adulthood. He couldn't do it. He still can't.

We didn't speak too much at all, actually. He'd call me. He'd let me know where he was. His call meant he wanted sex. He didn't have to ask for it and I didn't have to consent. That's good, in that I wouldn't have been able to consent, so it's good we by-passed that formality. He called and his want was my desire. I went to please him, and did so. However he wanted to be pleased, that's what I did. I didn't feel abused by him, only used. Except once when he bobbed my head up and down on his penis. Then I didn't feel human at all. But I was, more typically, regularly used, without any stated objections from me. This is how I know consent-based laws on rape and assault mean nothing. Women around the world have sex with their husbands because to not do so is to be beaten. So they willingly allow themselves to be used as things. There's no consent: he pulls her into a room and fucks her. Her will is not to have sex; her will is to not be beaten. That's their "sex life".

That's the sex life of too many married women--women married to men. No one, it seems, wants to fully acknowlege that reality and so men's voices flood in at this point noting how they don't treat women like that and never would. And women's voices flood in saying, "I like sex! I want it and I enjoy it and often I'm the initiator with my boyfriend/husband!" And I say, "That's good. I'm happy for you. Now, what about all the women for whom that isn't the case? Shall we be concerned about their happiness, or is that too much of a downer?" They don't wish to discuss it. Women turn away. Men scoff. And they need to tell me again how much they like sex, and welcome it, and how good it is for everyone on Earth, if only people would let go of their shame about it.

I know they like it. I believe them. But the people who step forth to say how much they adore their country don't, in any way, speak for those who are being destroyed by it. And that destruction causes shame and it creates vast expanses of silence. So when these people who love sex ask around for who doesn't love it as much as they do, there's lots of shame in people who are confused by what sex is for them. And the sex-lovers take the silence as consent that everyone loves it as much as they do.

With that man, in the motels, who was het to the world but not in his desires, I also felt "this is it; this is all you'll ever get from men". He was my cousin. (He still is.) I don't see him any more. I don't see him in part because if he wanted sex I can't say no. I've never said no to him. I value self-destruction too much for that. I have a hard time saying no to all forms of self-neglect at once. I've yet to figure that one out: how to love all of me at once. Or, how to love myself enough to stop being so self-neglectful. But I love myself enough to avoid him and to not take his calls, which fortunately have dwindled down to almost never occurring.

Self-love is what I want for women that I can't manage for myself. I love women in a way I can't love men. That's not something most het men or gay men understand in the least. I understand it. And I live it.

Happy Valentine's Day, to all the readers out there who are women and gay men. I hope you are not being abused today by anyone. I pray you are not married to a man who is a terrorist, or are with a callous user of your body. I hope you are not bonded to someone who cannot love you. I hope you know love, for your self most especially. If you do, let me know how you got there.

It's not true that if you cannot love yourself, you're incapable of loving others. It may be true that for wholeness and presence, both must happen simultaneously.

Here is a love letter I wrote to someone once:
To Andrea, With Love

Here is the best self-love story I've ever read:
First Love

Love to you, dear reader. Do something special for yourself today. And I'll do the same. Something that feels like love.

[This was slightly revised on 15 Feb. 2011.]


Dark Daughta said...

Love to you, too. Love, honour, hope, strength, faith, presence, wholeness. Thank you for difficult. Please be held and every day.

Julian Real said...

Thank you. I'm smiling and feeling the warmth of your words.

Bluetraveler said...

Hey Julian,
thanks for opening your heart. It's not something easy, especially for those raised as men! I think nothing I can write now honestly can do justice to what should be said, but one thing only:

you should not hate yourself because you are male. You did nothing bad. You are just doing good! And loving others without loving oneself (and vice-versa) is not really possible (the two things are contemporary). Stay strong, because you are. Assert (but don't impose) yourself when you know you are right, because that's a sign YOU CARE, and thus a form of love to life.
Maybe I'm misreading everything (in which case I apologize), but please Julian, you need love from yourself too.

Julian Real said...

Thank you, Bluetraveler.

To the best of my knowledge, which is admittedly incomplete, I don't think I hate myself for being male. I think I did take too deeply into myself the messages of bullies and other boys who tried to get me to conform, so they'd never have to confront in themselves their own confusions about the ways some boys are harmed and so many are harmful to girls--and why that is.

My feelings about my maleness, if that means me being a male person, in the apolitical sense, in just a physiological sense, is not hate (I think; I can't be sure). It does sometimes feel like a kind of confusion, and a kind of inability to be fully in my body. I'm not sure if that's hate or not. I think of it as a kind of avoidance. It makes sense to me that some people who feel this way might, if they have the chance, seek out surgery to remedy a problem that, for some of us, is deeply spiritual, emotional, and political, and the result of very tangled politically unnamed and unexpressed experiences.

Your blog is an inspiration to me, as it helps me know I'm not alone in challenging beliefs that these feelings necessarily mean one ought to have hormone injections and surgery to resolve them. I accept that for some people, that is what makes sense for them. But I am also glad that I didn't grow up now, because I know I'd be very vulnerable to believing what feels to me like the prevailing viewpoint: that sets of feelings like mine mean I'm transsexual, not just intergender. So, thank you for speaking your truth!!

Dark Daughta said...

I appreciate your words on the issue of trans/formation, Julian. I appreciate the way you hold yourself truthfully yet gently and with much internal self critique. I thought this post was brave and brilliant hard to read...which I appreciated given that I'm usually the person I know who writes politics intertwined with the imperfectly messy political. I do think you're right about trans/formation being a trend, a cult. I think it's a stop sign along the way. It's one route that really...I'm not sure it can actually lead us anywhere generative. But it's a choice for some people I know and I won't naysay their process or their experiences. I appreciate the fact that conversation so grounded, so contextualized can also happen, blossom, unfurl with such intelligence, depth of understanding, experience. I feel lucky to have come across your blog, Julian and also yours, too Bluetraveler. I've read some of what you've written. It's thick and weighty, very charged energetically. I've never come across anyone like you - someone who decided to backtrack on the decision to build a trans/formed life and body. I've only known and loved and been in acquaintanceship with those who forged ahead and haven't spoken or written about looking back.

Yafa Shulamit said...

There is so much in this article (and in others of yours) that is very relevant to me right now. Which is kind of strange since I don't have gender identity struggles and, to my knowledge, I wasn't raped (or molested) until I was 18 or 19. Loving all of myself is so confusing and contradictory. Thank you for your writing.

Julian Real said...

I am very glad this post and others spoke to you and support or validate your experiences and struggles in some ways.

I'm also really pleased you took the time to write to me and tell me so.

I'm wishing you well.